July highlights from the world of scientific publishing

4th Aug 2014

A brief summary this month: difficulties that Chinese authors have with journals, dealing with coauthor conflicts, how to write badly, what difference peer review makes, and debates in the mainstream media on peer review

Survey of Chinese authors

Editing company Edanz (@JournalAdvisor) published a survey of Chinese scientific authors and the difficulties they face in getting published. It found that they needed an average of about 200 working hours to prepare a research paper, compared with only 95 hours previously reported for native English speakers. Chinese authors struggle to understand journal instructions for authors and find it hard to get information on journals. They also find journal decision letters unclear and would like more guidance on the next steps when their papers are rejected.

It doesn’t surprise me that non-native English speakers struggle to get information about journals, and this is something that Cofactor can help with.

Author conflicts

@ElsevierConnect posted an editorial originally published in the journal Biological Conservation, ‘Co-authors gone bad – how to avoid publishing conflicts‘. This gives examples of the kinds of conflicts that can arise between authors on a paper, ways to avoid them, and a sample coauthor agreement for a scientific project.

Over-academic writing style

@MarkGerstein alerted me to a great post by @EvolutionIsTrue (Jerry Coyne) dissecting an interesting but very badly written paper. He says

The title should be “Do squirrels run away when you’re approaching them or looking at them?

The title is in fact:

Does human pedestrian behaviour influence risk assessment in a successful mammal urban adapter?

Which of these do you find easier to understand?

There is a place for technical language when it makes the wording more precise, but this example shows how it can be used to completely obscure the meaning.

Using open peer review to study peer review

A study was published in The BMJ (via @irenehames) that analysed the difference that peer review made to the reporting of randomised controlled trials. This was made possible by the open peer review practised by medical BioMed Central journals. From analysis of 93 manuscripts before and after peer review and the reviewer comments, the authors concluded:

Peer reviewers fail to detect important deficiencies in reporting of the methods and results of randomised trials. The number of these changes requested by peer reviewers was relatively small. Although most had a positive impact, some were inappropriate and could have a negative impact on reporting in the final publication.

Peer review in the news

Finally, the Guardian published an editorial on peer review, listing problems with it such as high-profile retractions, reliance on a too narrow set of reviewers who may be biased and cannot always check the raw data. Several prominent journal editors added comments with more on the complexities of modern peer review, including Trish Groves of The BMJ, Elizabeth Moylan of BioMed Central and Rebecca Lawrence of F1000Research.

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